By John Pierce

The explosive use of social media has created a modern challenge. And I’m not sure how to deal with it.

Like water, fire and many other things, it has potential for both good and evil.

Social media can be both a time saver and a time waster. And a lot of time gets spent on simply trying to navigate the overabundance of stuff that shows up and is not worth reading.

At times I think about ignoring it all. At more rational times, I can’t imagine living without it. A balance is needed but not easy to discern or do.

Facebook, for example, has lost some of its magic. Yet it has dimensions of both blessing and burden.

It has provided a welcomed and unprecedented opportunity to reconnect with friends from every stage and place of life. For a while it was one continuous reunion — something my daughters can’t fully grasp because they have never been disconnected from friends who moved in different directions.

Those reconnections have been unexpected and, mostly, enjoyable. In fact, I’ve connected with high school friends that I hardly knew in high school.

But Facebook provides TMI. Some days I don’t want to hear all of that personal chatter and political ranting.

Twitter scratches an itch that I don’t have. I don’t follow easily. Rather my approach is to have friends who use Twitter and then tell me the highlights.

“Check Twitter and see what happened to the pitcher, please,” I’ll ask my seatmate at the Braves game.

Not everyone desires the same things from social media. And some people have more time and interest than others in the mammoth volume of information shared at each and every moment.

But, indeed, the social media onslaught has our attention. But I’m beginning to wonder if it just may have us by the throat.

Like the Wild West, there are few boundaries and rules.

Some have suggested etiquette that is largely ignored. And the challenge of making good use of social media requires more than just blocking an obnoxious, abusive or downright ignorant user on occasion.

There is a larger stewardship question: How do we make good, responsible and enjoyable use of communication technology that is so easy to abuse?

The wide and immediate response to issues and information was the great selling point of social media. But it turns out that constructive dialogue is in very short supply.

Comment sections are rarely insightful — in fact, very rarely and only if highly monitored. Generally, they simply reinforce the already proven reality that those who have the least to say tend to say the most.

Social media reaction to the George Zimmerman trial, for example, provided lots of opinions but few insights. It did, however, reinforce something I learned long ago: It is never helpful for white people to tell black people how they should feel.

The stewardship questions surrounding social media vary for users. But, for me, the ones I’m considering most closely at this time are:

How much time will I give to online communities? In what ways can I reduce the misinformation and ignorance that abounds without simply eliminating a variety of voices? What can I contribute that might be helpful, meaningful to someone, or in some other way constructive?

The lack of limits is what makes social media so remarkable — and therefore so unremarkable.

Historian and Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham put it well on MSNBC’s Morning Joe when he said recently of social media: “There’s a means of saying whatever we want to say when there is a limited supply of intelligent things to say.”

Yes. And I’m trying to figure out how to deal with that reality — while still making good connections and gaining valuable information quickly.

Yet without knowing when every person I’ve ever known and some I don’t really know go to the bathroom. Or hearing every poor regurgitation of some political nonsense that I didn’t want to hear from the nut who said it originally.

As social media evolve, perhaps some user guidelines will emerge. If so, I hope they begin with: Chill.


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